Minorities and women are increasingly buying firearms, especially for self-protection, as activists and politicians continue calling to defund the police amid violent crime surges.
Gun sales in the U.S. have been climbing for decades, but Americans have been on an “unusual, prolonged buying spree fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, the protests last summer and the fears they both stoked,” The New York Times reported May 29.
The report notes the record number of federal background checks in March 2020, when the number topped 1 million in one week for the first time since the government began tracking the background checks in 1998. The buying spree continued into 2020, when one week in the spring saw a record 1.2 million background checks.
Although people who already owned guns were buying more, people who had never owned guns were buying them too. One-fifth of all Americans who bought guns in 2020 were first-time gun owners, according to the Times. New gun owners were also less likely than usual to be white males. Of the new gun owners, half were women, a fifth were black and a fifth were Hispanic.
A survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that firearms sales to women were up 40% from 2019, and personal protection is the primary reason for gun purchases among women, WBAL TV reported in November. Women said they were purchasing guns for other reasons, too, citing fears of civil unrest, election uncertainty and the coronavirus pandemic.
“The highest overall firearm sales increase comes from Black men and women, who show a 58.2% increase in purchases during the first six months of 2020 versus the same period last year,” Jim Curcuruto, the National Shooting Sports Foundation director of Research and Market Development, wrote in a report, according to AOL News.
Gun sales among minorities were fueled by similar reasons, including the business shutdowns at the beginning of the pandemic, uneasiness regarding Black Lives Matter rallies and growing calls to defund the police, according to AOL News.
In 2021, 63% of overall gun owners in 2021 were male, 73% were white, 10% were black and 12% were Hispanic, Dr. Matthew Miller, a professor of epidemiology at Northeastern University, told the Times.
“People were concerned with people breaking into their home or breaking into their vehicle or attacking them while they’re in their vehicles [after COVID-19],” Michael Cargill, the owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, Texas, told Yahoo News. “So people wanted to take their own protection into their own hands.”
Although gun sales didn’t change much under the Trump administration, they surged by 64% in 2020 from the previous year, the Times reported. The single highest month in 2020 was in June, when protests and riots erupted across the country in the days following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
During the demonstrations and riots, those participating in them often called for the defunding or abolition of police, and some politicians echoed their calls.
New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has advocated for police to be defunded on multiple occasions. Democratic members of the “Squad” slammed former President Barack Obama in December coming out against the “defund the police” slogan.
“It’s not a slogan but a policy demand,” Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar said following Obama’s remarks during the interview. Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley sent out a tweet saying “lives are at stake fairly so I’m out of patience with critiques of the language of activists. Whatever a grieving family says is their truth.”
The murders of generations of unarmed Black folks by police have been horrific. Lives are at stake daily so I’m out of patience with critiques of the language of activists.
Whatever a grieving family says is their truth.
And I’ll never stop fighting for their justice & healing.
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) December 2, 2020
As calls to defund police became a frequently chanted slogan at protests and riots, violent crime was also increasing in many of the cities where these demonstrations took place. In Minneapolis, the site of some of the earliest and most violent protests last year, violent crime increased 17% in low-income communities and 30% in high-income neighborhoods, the Star Tribune reported in September. Some neighborhoods experienced as much as 36% more violent crime.
Several Minneapolis residents sued the city for failing to adequately staff police amid a rise in violence rise in October. “Every single night on any block in this neighborhood you can hear gunshots,” one of the plaintiffs said. The plaintiffs blame the Minneapolis City Council’s efforts to defund the police for the rise in violence. (RELATED: ‘You Can Hear Gunshots’: Minneapolis Residents Sue City For Failing To Adequately Staff Police Amid Crime Surge)
New York City also saw a steep increase in violent crime last summer, according to the Times. In Los Angeles, homicides rose by 36% in 2020, the Times reported.
Between May and August, the New York Police Department reported 791 shootings, or 140% more than the same period in 2019, and 180 murders, a 51% increase compared to 2019, the Times reported. By August, with four months remaining in the year, the city had already surpassed the number of shootings that occurred every year since 2015.
Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta are other cities that also saw a deadly year for crime.
Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, a gun researcher at the University of California, Davis, told the Times that the surge in gun sales was unlike anything he’s ever seen and although it usually slows down, the trend seems to be continuing.